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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Can't Catch 'em?

My friend has a horse she cannot catch and asked me what to do and I was wondering if you had any advice.

Stevie Lowe

Hi Stevie,

I stopped trying to catch horses a long time ago. I like them to catch me. In order for this to happen, we have to drop our agenda of catching the horse to do something with him. Only for a while though, until the issue of the horse not wanting to be with the human is addressed. This is where developing a relationship of trust begins. Now, the horse feels, if he is with the human, he is made uncomfortable, put to work, or some such thing that is unpleasant for him. Imagine having a relationship with the horse where he really looks forward to the human coming around and looks for that human as soon as he senses that person is in the vicinity. There is not much of a relationship if one of the partners doesn't want to be with the other. That is what is going on here. There is only one reliable way to change this situation. For a while (and possible from here on) make the horse's feelings of trust and safety the most important thing and not that someone wants to ride the horse. Riding horses is not natural for them. We humans have imposed it on the horse. To really form a bond with a horse, we need to drop our agenda of what we want to get from the horse (riding or whatever) and focus on what we can give or bring to the horse in the way of a sense of peace, safety, confidence that when he is with us, everything is AOK and safe.

First off, stop chasing the horse. The owner, or whoever will be bonding with the horse, should not try to approach the horse at first. If the horses are out in a field or paddock, go and mingle with the other horses there (carry a rope and halter but do not try to use it). Scratch and pet the other horses a bit. DO NOT bring treats. Do this a few times, the horse you are trying to bond with will eventually get a bit jealous of the affection and attention going to the other horses and want some too. When he comes closer and wants that affection, give it to him w/o trying to catch him. Then leave for a while. Come back later and do the same thing. Over just a couple of days, the horse in question will come to relax around you and want the affection. After a period of time goes by and the horse is comfortable coming to you, halter him, but do not take him out of the paddock or field. Just scratch and pet him a while and then turn him loose. Do this a number of times. Soon enough he will being to feel good about being haltered.

This process works barring no old abuse issues that are still strong in the horses mind. Let me know if you think there is abuse in his background. There are additional steps that will need to be taken if this is the case. Once, this horse catches you and allows haltering with no angst on his part, remain sensitive to the horses reactions and responses to what you do with him. If, during grooming he is fidgeting and nippy or nervous, back off on how aggressive the grooming is until he settles and seems to enjoy the grooming. Frequently, because the human only has a little time with the horse and they want to ride them as quickly as possible, they don't notice or are oblivious to how the horse is feeling about what is being done to it. The rule is, if the human would not like the 'touch' neither would the horse. Make certain how you are touching that animal is pleasant, if not, don't expect that horse to want to be caught again. Additionally, if the saddle, bridle or bit is uncomfortable for the horse, or the horse is hurting while being ridden, don't expect the horse to want to be with the human again. We need to put the horse's comfort ahead of our own agenda. If the horse is being hurt by how we touch them, saddle or bridle them, or anything, it is to be expected that the horse will want to leave us (as a human partner would if we hurt them in any way). This is normal behavior and to be the expected response to pain, confusion, frustration, inappropriate work (not warming the horse up properly before exercise) and a host of other things. By putting the horse's well being and good state of mind first, they will want to follow the human around and do what is asked of it willingly and even enthusiastically.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer some suggestions. I am available for more. Let me know how it goes. Many horse owners are not willing to put the horse's best interest above their own agenda. I hope this is not the case here. I have had tremendous succss rehabiliting horses that have serious abuse issues in their pasts (not only horses that won't be caught, but horses that will aggressivly chase a human from their pasture). Anyway, let me know your thoughts. Blessings to you and the horses and your friend.

Aloha, Franklin

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